Critiques of Relationship between Religion & Morality

Critiques of Relationship between Religion & Morality A2 developments paper

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  • Created by: Lauren
  • Created on: 08-05-12 09:02


  • John Nelson - "one of the fundamental differences between a religious & non-religious person is in their perception of morality"
  • Whether is relationship is vital question for believers, & issue raises many questions E.g. Possible to be religious but not moral, & If no God, everything permissable?

Many argued is a connection:

  • Aquinas - claimed know what is best, noblest & truest, therefore must be cause of these = God

Many attempted to destroy link:

  • Critiques from sociological (Marx & Durkheim)
  • Psychological pov (Jung & Freud)
  • Plato's Euthyphro Dilemma
  • Moral dilemmas in Bible
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Plato - Euthyphro Dilemma

  • Holds are 2 positions by which God & goodness related: God command X because is good, or X good because God commands it?
  • Key critique - shows God & goodness separate & ultimately religion & morality not symbiotic (neither depends on other)
  • In first position (God command X because is good?):
    • Shows goodness exists separately to God but God gives access, although would exist still without God, as knowledge is outside God's nature
    • May appeal to atheists - can stay connected to goodness & thus morality without need for supreme being
  • In second position (X good because been commanded?):
    • Names God as source of goodness/moral knowledge
    • However, counter intuitive - God may command things know are not right E.g. murder
    • If something good because been commanded by God, what is nature of God's goodness? - Good b. obeys own laws, or b. creator of them & so possesses greater degree of goodness (applicable to noly him?)
    • Should be able to judge God's goodness against independent standard if believe his moral commands bind humanity to obey him - proves goodness has to exist separately
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Biblical Moral Dilemmas

  • Abraham & Isaac
  • As mentioned, one problem if God source of morality - could command murder
  • Did this in Biblical story of Abraham & Isaac = asked Abraham to kill son, about to comply when angel stopped him - was apparently test of faith
  • Argued is counter-intuitive command from God


  • Life flourished in all areas til devil wondered if strong faith was dependent on success - "Strech out your hand now & touch all that he has, & he will curse you to your face"
  • God tested Abraham - death of servants, children, loss of land & home, however faith remained strong

Jepthah (Judges, 11:30)

  • Vows to God that if he gives him victory over Ammonites, will sacrifice "Whoever comes out the doors of my house to meet me when I return be offered up as burnt offering"
  • Was his daughter & was sacrificed (alternative explanation = not in death, but her life was offered to God by becoming a nun)
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Issues BMD raise & Why

Raises issues that bring into question relationship between religion & morality, E.g:

  • Why would Abraham have blindly obeyed God & why trust command from metaphysical being?
  • Benevolent God would not have commanded murder, so how can religion be moral if based on immoral action?
  • How can God be omniptent if so easily swayed by Satan / How can Satan exist of God is omnioptent?

Why God may have demanded immoral acts:

  • to make appreciate what they have
  • may not have been immoral - stories have ideological function to give perception of free will, but God really controls our destiny
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Responses to BMD

  • However, Tyler - in God Jokes, thinks only explanation is that God was 'joking around' when asked Abraham to kill his son; no other explanation makes sense; avoids having to ask questions about God's own morality that would challenge the theist's image of a benevolent God
  • Nietzsche - thinks 'God is dead'
  • Daphne Hampson (feminist) - sees Ab&Is. story from Sarah's pov; thinks Abraham should have questioned what kind of God he was dealing with instead of blindly obeying; may not have been what God wanted (wanted him to say no), & so sent angel to interven b. did not listen to wife - would not have agreed to murder child
  • Stories of God's immorality = prove that goodness & morality cannot be linked to God or religion b. God acted immorally
  • Thus morality = independent
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Psychological critique


  • Maintained that religion is designed to avert imaginary misfortune
  • People use religion in order to avoid bad things happening to them, in the same way that suspicious people avoid things like black cats etc
  • Said religion helps to explain the complex relationships we have with mother/father, & Oedipus complex boys have, feel guilty for being sexually attracted to mother & wanted to kill the father, so to they alleviate the father's memory and worship him like a God
  • God is not the source of morality, humans are
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Sociological Critique

Nietzsche (post modern)

  • Said God is dead
  • Religion is no longer a part of today's society as have become secularised, so must get morality from another source
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Success of critiques in destroying link:

  • Are args. conclusive proof religion & morality not linked?
  • Much evidence to suggest religious mroality could be regarded as immoral
  • Secular ethicists argue humans more likely to be morally responsible in absence of God, as then people would be acting out of own motivations instead of merely obeying to go to heaven (not good will)
  • No afterlife = this life is what counts & way behave has real implications (not for eschatological reward / punishment), as people have limited life span so should be treated well (no making up for it later)
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Apply following to critique being evaluated for ho


  • "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous & proud of it; petty. unjust unforgiving control freak...a capriciously malevolent bully"
  • Dismisses religious faith completely - irrational & so morality has no link to religion
  • Believes morality evolved - part of what means to be a society; obtain morality not from God but from society's norms/values b. is beneficial as creates stability (society found most efficient way to function)

Kierkgaard (Fear & Trembling)

  • Concluded faith was highest virtue, but should not confuse morality with doing will of God
  • If evaluating BMD = for story of Ab&Is. meant that what God asked Ab. to do not about morality, but faith; However, believers assume God omniscient - would already if Ab. loyal without testing (& would have caused less psychological damage)
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Habgood (Varieties of Unbelief)

  • Modern view - asked if morality universal
  • If so = can morality ever be discounted, even under extreme pressure from God (If BMD = Ab. should have said NO, should have known something wrong with God's command)
  • Attempted to show is no link - it is not God who decides what people think is moral


  • Argued if morality dependent on religion then this prevents people from working out moral system of their own
  • Morality has to be independent - referring to religion would not help in many modern day dilemmas (No moral guidance on abortion b. not in Bible)
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Russell - "I love the things I think are good & I hate the things I think are bad. I don't say things are good because they participate in divine goodness"

Jesus - highlighted weaknesses of religious morality with parable of Good Samaritan

Grayling - argued morality had simply changed (E.g. In Bible, about helping others but today's society = individualistic & concerned w/ helping selves); may have changed but not always a good thing

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  • Responses = lead us to ask question: Does ...(insert critique)...destroy the link between religion & morality?
  • Challenge the idea of a connection, but alone no critique can be strong enough to completely destroy an ancient link; all can do is bring it into question - only partial success
  • However - is right for anyone to claim no link?
  • Believers assume God = omnipotent & creator of moral standards (even if appear immoral at times)
  • Is a trust non-believers should not attempt to understand or destroy - all language is a game (Wittgenstein); words used in contex of subject area
  • Religious language, which encompasses morality = meaningful when understood within context of own language game
  • Therefore, those who do not play this game will misunderstand, so what does it matter if believers think God is the source of their morality, when the pirmary purpose of game is not to make factual statements anyway?
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thanks, this helped alot

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